The Socially Networked Birthday

I don't like to make a big deal about my birthday. After all, it is just another day. That is, until Facebook came along and changed the world of birthday greetings as we know it.
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I've never been much of a birthday person. Perhaps that's because I have one that falls in January. As a child, I became immune to the canceled parties due to snowstorms and flu outbreaks, not to mention the picked-over gifts straight from the holiday sale rack. I've always held the belief passed on to me by my mother that every day, not just your birthday, is special and in some way is meant to be celebrated.

That's most likely why, as an adult, I don't like to make a big deal about my birthday. After all, it is just another day. That is, until Facebook came along and changed the world of birthday greetings as we know it. Last year was no exception. I awoke to extra hugs and kisses from my family, which I will take any day of the year. After getting my kids off to school and settling down to my computer to get some work done, I was overwhelmed by my Facebook alerts of birthday greetings -- a true blast from the past.

"Sally Sadow Simpson has posted on your timeline, and so has Mary McMahon Michaels and Lisa LaRue Lane..." and so the day began. Trying to focus on a deadline at hand, my mind began to wander to Sally, a girl I met at summer camp and had not seen or heard from since then -- 25 years ago. What was she up to? Who is this Mr. Simpson that she married and how sweet that she thought of me today. I will have to remember her birthday, and of course Mary's and Lisa's too. These thoughts drifted in and out of my head all day long as I received "happy bdays (with smiley faces)," "have a great day," and "thinking of you today" alerts from long-lost high school and college friends, former work colleagues and friends of friends that I met years ago at random events in my life.

Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg (or the Winklevoss twins, depending on which way you see it), birthdays have become a strange stroll down memory lane for so many of us. People that you had completely forgotten about now take the three seconds out of their day to tell you to enjoy yours. It's nice -- it really is, but there are other theories:

I have one friend (a Facebook friend and a real friend) I've known since childhood and with whom I still speak to a few times a week and see regularly. She believes that a Facebook birthday greeting does not count as a greeting at all. In her view, it constitutes a lack of real feeling and is simply part of someone's to-do list as they log in to their account and see your name and special day pop up on their page. Another real-life and Facebook friend holds true to her own rule that you should only wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook if in fact you would have done the same via phone, card or email before the days of the social network.

The jury is still out for me. As someone who never cared too much about her birthday, there is surprisingly a part of me that really does like hearing from everyone, or more accurately from everyone's Facebook account. It's even turned into a bit of a game amongst my real friends who, when they call me on my birthday, inquire about the most random Facebook birthday greetings of the day.

Last year, on the day after my birthday, I got a call from another real childhood friend. She lives on the West Coast and felt terrible that she missed my birthday. By the time she remembered, it was too late to call. I told her it's not a big deal at all. I don't get stuck on birthdays, and I'm just happy to hear from her whenever. She told me very honestly that the only reason she remembered at all was when Facebook reminded her.

OK social network, that's a point for you... whoever invented you.

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